India’s fabled spin quartet were gifted but high time Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja are given their due as allrounders

A trio of spinners who could win games with the ball; a trio of spinners who could win games with the bat. Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel are as rare as they are unique, their combined effect arguably unparalleled in the history of Indian cricket.
As if their numbers with the ball, perceivably their primary skills, are not devastating enough — 754 wickets at 21.03— the figures with the bat are spectacular, considering where they come to bat.

Jadeja has 2,593 runs at 37.03 including three hundreds; since 2019, Jadeja has the eighth best average in Test cricket (49.37 in 31 innings), the second best for his country after Rohit Sharma (57.65). Needless to dwell, none of the top 10 bats as low as Jadeja does. His overall average of 37.04 bests the legendary pair of Ian Botham and Kapil Dev, and is just a few decimals behind Imran Khan. Of course, they were fast bowlers, all hard work and broken body parts. But still, in terms of influence, Jadeja is not inferior to them.

Not to be left behind, Ashwin has reeled out valuable knocks in the last couple of years, including a hundred on turner at Chepauk and a brace of half-centuries in plucky lower-order fightbacks that have been a recurring theme in the last couple of years. A batsman with far more grace and steel than his average of 27.37 suggests (coincidentally the same as that of Richard Hadlee), he has secured one hundred fewer than MS Dhoni, as many as Wasim Jaffer and Vinoo Mankad, one more than Sanjay Majrekar (4) and Sandeep Patil (4). Axar’s career is still nascent, but in a short time he has not missed an opportunity to display his batting acumen (an average of 27.27 in 14 innings for a No.9 is spectacular).

It’s not just about their statistics with the bat, but how comfortably they bat, how effortlessly they defend on turning tracks, and how consistently they contribute. Nagpur was a classic case, where if you erase the half-centuries of Axar and Jadeja, India’s lead would not have crossed 100.

It is not to establish that they are greater than X, Y or Z, but it’s high time their contributions are fully appreciated, or belittling the feats of the past-masters, but just to state how magnificent the current generation too are.

Often, the sporting world charms itself in the warm glow of nostalgia, of past masters and their sepia-hued feats, of the colourful tales off the field and eccentricities. Didn’t you watch Kapil’s 175 or Botham’s Headingley miracles? Or Imran’s Karachi spell against India? The aura they still radiate, the myth they have woven, by themselves as well as the chroniclers of a pre-internet, pre-social media generation, put them on an unscalable pedestal. No doubt they were legends, of remarkable skills and persona, then so are Ashwin and Jadeja.

The world still marvels at the grandeur of India’s fabled spin quartet—the divinely gifted foursome of Bishan Singh Bedi, Erapalli Prasanna and Srinivas Venkataraghavan and Bhagwat Chandrasekhar—who shared 853 wickets in 231 Tests. All four were supreme spin artists, and explored the depth and range of spin-bowling in an era when it was not fashionable.
To them owe the grand tradition of India as the land of elastic-limbed and rubber-wristed twirly-men. None of them batted either. Venkataraghavan boasted the best average, which was 11.68. Not that their batting should ever matter—but just to give a perspective.

No other quartet, trio or pair of Indian spinners have won such enduring appreciation and admiration. Even the two spin-pillars of the 90s and aughts, Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh, 1,036 Test wickets and three hundreds between them, never won as much reverence or recognition as Bedi and Co. have. It’s no fault of them, or the generations after them, it’s the sporting world’s blind addiction of the past. But sometimes, a change of lens would open your eyes and sensibilities to a brave and beautiful new world, vibrant and sparkling, to marvel in the rare and unique gifts of Ashwin, Axar and Jadeja.

There could be more prolific spinners, better batsmen. But a few who could bowl quality spin and score useful runs as they would. Genuine spin-bowling all-rounders itself is an almost exclusive club—there have been but a handful, such as Richie Benaud, Wilfred Rhodes and Lance Gibbs, Ravi Shastri. Vinoo Mankad, Shakib-al-Hasan, Daniel Vettori and Gary Sobers, though he bowled medium pace too.

That both Jadeja and Ashwin—let’s keep Axar out of this, for his career is still blossoming— commands a place among the finest of all-rounders as well as the most successful spinners of any era is a testament to their body of work. They are already among the greatest bowlers India ever had—going not by numbers but also their capacity to define matches. They should be among the finest all-rounders the country has produced as well (there is not much competition anyway). Among them, Jadeja should sneak into debates on the world’s most prolific all-rounders, not just in his time, but in any era.

Ashwin is the ninth highest wicket-taker ever; Jadeja is the 41st; both are climbing steeply upwards. Ashwin is the 15th highest run getter among those that have scored 2000-plus runs and picked 200-plus wickets. Jadeja is 17th on the list, but only Jacques Kallis, Gary Sobers and Imran possess a better batting average, and only Khan, Hadlee and Shaun Pollock have a better bowling aggregate.

It’s difficult to remember any Test team that could field three gifted all-rounders in this century. The decade before South Africa had a phalanx of them—Kallis, Pollock, Lance Klusener, Nicky Boje. The closest is England, when Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali and Chris Woakes unite.

There was a time when the identity of an Indian all-rounder—barring Kapil—connoted to the archetypal bits and pieces entity. Those that could bat a bit and bowl medium pace; or those that were specialist batsmen who could roll their arm over. Not to undervalue them—a posse of them starred in the 1983 World Cup—but none of them were genuine all-rounders. For decades after the sunset of Kapil, an all-rounder of gold standard remained elusive barring the brief dazzle of Irfan Pathan.

Now India have a trio, who could hunt with bat and kill with the ball. Their role in India’s home supremacy is undebatable. At home, Ashwin averages 28.85 with the bat and 20.88 with the ball; Jadeja’s corresponding numbers are 42.41 and 20.30; Axar’s are 31.22 and 12.97. The scale of definition to be considered a Test all-rounder is if someone’s batting average exceeds his bowling average then he is a formidable all-rounder. India’s trio strolls into the category. Like the fab four, a fab three, perhaps more unique. So much so that Rohit Sharma would have to contend with them not just pushing for bowling spot but batting spots too,

Myth-busting box

Ravindra Jadeja has a better batting average than Kapil Dev, Ian Botham, Richard Hadlee, Andrew Flintoff and Shaun Pollock.

Ravichandran Ashwin (5) has scored more centuries than Sandeep Patil and Sanjay Manjrekar (4). He has only one hundred fewer than MS Dhoni.

The quartet of Bedi and Co picked their wickets at 31.09; Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh at 31; Ashwin, Jadeja and Axar at 21.03.

The quartet has 43 five-for between them; Kumble and Harbhajan 60; Ashwin and Co 47.

Ashwin’s strike rate is 51.9, Jadeja’s 60, Axar’s 37.9; in comparison, Bedi’s was 80.3, Chandra’s 65, Prasanna’s 75 and Venkataraghavan’s 95; Kumble and Harbhajan struck every 65th and 68th ball.

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